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Appeal Court Dicta

Safety - Firearms Act

. Canada (Attorney General) v. M.C.

In Canada (Attorney General) v. M.C. (Ont CA, 2023) the Court of Appeal set out some legislation, and recent amendments to, firearms law in Canada:
[2] On May 1, 2020, the Governor in Council, by Order in Council SOR/2020-96, amended the regulations under the Firearms Act: Regulations Prescribing Certain Firearms and Other Weapons, Components and Parts of Weapons, Accessories, Cartridge Magazines, Ammunition and Projectiles as Prohibited or Restricted, SOR/98-462 (the “Order in Council”). As a result of these amendments, certain firearms that had previously been classified as restricted or non-restricted were immediately reclassified as “prohibited” for the purposes of the Firearms Act and under the Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46. As such, these firearms are incapable of being legally possessed. The respondents are owners of such firearms.

[3] On the same date, by SOR/2020-97 and in accordance with s. 117.14(3) of the Criminal Code, an amnesty order was put in place to protect affected firearms owners from criminal liability while in the process of dealing with the firearms as permitted by the Order in Council. The original amnesty period was from May 1, 2020 to April 30, 2022. This was extended until October 30, 2023: see SOR/2022-45. In the meantime, the Federal Government is developing a program whereby it will “buy back” the reclassified and now illegal firearms from those affected. This program is yet to be implemented.

[4] On July 20, 2020, the RCMP sent a letter to firearms owners impacted by the amendments that notified them of the regulatory amendments. The letters were sent in the name of the Registrar of Firearms (the “Registrar”). A redacted copy of the letter sent to one of the respondents is appended to this judgment. The parties’ submissions focused on language in the following passage of the letter:
Certain restricted firearms which were registered to you have been affected by the recent regulatory amendments. These firearms, listed below, are now classified as prohibited and the previous registration certificates are automatically nullified and are therefore no longer valid but should be retained as a historical registration record. [Emphasis added.]
The RCMP/Registrar letters also identified the firearm(s) believed to be possessed and registered to the owners.

The Legislative Context

[5] To provide context for what happened next, it is necessary to refer to some features of the Firearms Act, which, in conjunction with the Criminal Code, regulates the possession of firearms in Canada.

[6] To lawfully possess certain firearms, a person must have a firearms licence and a registration certificate. A firearms licence shows that the licence holder can possess and use certain kinds of firearms; a registration certificate identifies a firearm and links the firearm to its owner. Under the Firearms Act, the Chief Firearms Officer is responsible for the issuance and administration of licences; the Registrar is responsible for registration certificates.

[7] Section 70 provides the Chief Firearms Officer with the power to revoke firearms licences. Section 71(1)(a) furnishes the Registrar with the discretion to revoke a registration certificate for a restricted or prohibited firearm “for any good and sufficient reason”. When the Registrar revokes a registration certificate, it must give notice of their intention to do so “in the prescribed form”: s. 72(1).

[8] Decisions made by the Chief Firearms Officer and the Registrar are reviewable under s. 74 of the Firearms Act, which provides:
74(1) Subject to subsection (2), where

(a) a chief firearms officer or the Registrar refuses to issue or revokes a licence, registration certificate authorization to transport, authorization to export or authorization to import,


the applicant for or holder of the licence, registration certificate, authorization or approval may refer the matter to a provincial court judge in the territorial division in which the applicant or holder resides. [Emphasis added.]
This procedure is called a “reference”. It is a hearing at which a judge determines whether a refusal or revocation on the part of the Chief Firearms Officer or the Registrar was “not justified”: s. 75(3). The judge has the power to confirm or reverse the decision that is the subject of the reference: s. 76.
The balance of the reasons [paras 9-24] address the matter of the case to date - ie. whether the regulation amendments (which 'automatically nullified' the weapon registrations) invoked the s.74 Firearms Act ['Reference to judge of refusal to issue or revocation, etc.'] to allow challenge by the owners (SS: it didn't).

. Canada (Attorney General) v. M.C.

In Canada (Attorney General) v. M.C. (Ont CA, 2023) the Court of Appeal explains, as a preliminary matter, some Firearms Act procedures - akin to an appeal:
[1] By way of background, the appeal relates to the jurisdiction of the Ontario Court of Justice (OCJ) to hear a reference case under the Firearms Act, S.C. 1995, c. 39. In May 2020, the Governor in Council made an order changing the classification of certain firearms from “restricted” to “prohibited”. Those who had licenses to possess the newly-prohibited firearms received letters notifying them that their licenses were no longer valid. The underlying question is whether the Order and notification letter effectively revoked the licenses of individuals who had previously valid licenses. If a license is revoked, there is a right under s. 74(1) of the Firearms Act to bring a reference to a provincial court judge. The applicants (respondents on appeal) in this matter launched references in the OCJ challenging the purported “revocation” of their licenses. Canada (the appellant on appeal) takes the position that the change in classification was not a “revocation”, and so there is no jurisdiction for the OCJ to hear a reference. The applications judge in the decision under appeal agreed with the respondents and found that the OCJ had jurisdiction to conduct a s. 74 hearing and to make disclosure orders for any information considered relevant: R. v. M.C. et. al., 2022 ONSC 6299.


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